The question of what makes an effective protest and what is simply detracting from the message has been raised again by two by Just Stop Oil supporters. They climbed up onto the Queen Elizabeth II bridge on Monday morning, subsequently closing it for a two day occupation. This caused around 6 miles of congestion and major delays which funnelled harsh criticism onto the pair. However, we seem to forget, a protest should be hard to ignore and challenge authority. Change comes through challenge.
In light of the extensive disruption that this particular demonstration caused, and with it following on from the Van Gough incident there has been a lot of criticism about this troublesome method of protest. More often than not, people say that this type of radical action is just alienating. That it is not the way to make the government or the general public more sympathetic to the cause, or more likely to listen and act on the climate emergency.
That is an illusion. It doesn’t seem possible for the government – who within the last two months announced the expansion of drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea- to listen any less to what the experts are saying about the climate crisis. For another, it is time to stop pretending that quiet, “respectful” protests encourage the government to respond to JSO’s demand for a halting of new oil contracts. There is no evidence as of yet to suggest that they do. Quiet “respectful” protests are just much easier to ignore, so the argument that the occupation of the bridge was too extreme or too likely to backfire just doesn’t really wash. Also, the means to democratically contest the renewal of oil contracts have been dramatically reduced by the introduction of the public order bill, which is symptomatic of the government’s unwillingness to listen to climate protestors, regardless of the nature of protest. What else are JSO meant to do, but be disruptive?
Furthermore, the idea that there is a way of protesting which would not inconvenience anyone or cause any disruption is wishful thinking. The time for “wholesome” and “palatable” protests has passed and radical action is necessary. Change is not brought about in a space where no one is challenged. Look at Westminster. This is a government that seemingly places profit from fossil fuel companies over the survival of the human race, they need challenging, and they need radical and disruptive action as seen on the QE2 bridge.
Yes, this protest has been particularly disruptive. It has inconvenienced people, it is uncomfortable to watch and easy to accuse of being too divisive, polarising and therefore an ineffective method of protest. However, there is not really an alternative in terms of attaining visibility for the cause. It is the actions of the government and of large oil corporations that should be considered criminal, not those protesting on the Queen Elizabeth II bridge.